The energy in the MBA auditorium is electric. We are all at the edge of our seats as Dr. Benoit Leleux, Professor of Entrepreneurship at IMD, is about to reveal a list of startups – profiles of new businesses at varying stages of development, in every industry you can think of, facing very different challenges. As the list goes up some questions in our minds are verbalized and the class erupts in excited chatter. Do you choose an industry you know, or one you want to learn about?
After submitting a list of startup preferences, IMD divides the participants in groups of six, and assign each of these to a startup. In our case, we got assigned to the “Ponera Group”, which is a startup with an innovative pallet system design that decreases packing costs by minimizing transport inefficiencies.
Soon after our team got together we were sent to the mountains, where our new team was put through a series of exercises designed to expose our individual and collective weaknesses. Cold, wet and exhausted, we were guided by professionals to celebrate the positive attributes we bring to the group, but also to explore in earnest the things that may be detrimental to you or your team. All of this helped build a high performing close-knit team, ready to tackle the unique challenges that the Ponera Group were facing.
The startup project has no road map, and no one from IMD looking over your shoulder. Apart from a check in now and then, the team of six is left to organize themselves and report back at the end of the project. I remember running down the steps to the meeting rooms in the basement of the Lorange building, better known as the dungeons. It was 18:00 and class had just ended.
It was our first meeting with Ponera Group and I felt the magnitude of the project we were about to start. When I saw them standing in our group room ready to present their company to us, I realized that this was more than a school project; it was an opportunity to make a real difference. Our Ponera Group project was an opportunity for the team to draw on collective experiences and think of creative, practical solutions that the startup could implement the next morning. As Benoit would say “Use your brains and think of solutions because you won’t find them in any books”.
Our time with Ponera was an opportunity to ‘get our hands dirty’, and apply everything we learned in module one. All startup activities are scheduled after hours, so during the day we attended various classes and at night we used our new insights to solve real life business challenges. Our journey with Ponera Group spanned the duration of the first module, and during this time our team has become good friends and we have become an extension of the Ponera team. Helping with everything from brainstorming product names, to building financial models, has made us passionate about their business.
I still remember the excitement when we ventured out to their car one cold winter evening, on our way to see their new product in the IMD parking lot. As the trunk of their car opened, we saw the prototype for the first time. Months of hard work coming to fruition, and we were there to be a part of it.
Our startup projects come to an end soon, but the relationships remain, and we will always feel that we were part of the Ponera Group.
Mina and the Ponera Study Group